Stories of Friends

David Schaal, Former President, Friends of the Omaha Public Library

Ten years ago when my sons were 12 and 14 and my daughter was nine, the boys and I visited the Open Door Mission as part of a church youth activity.  We attended a service, toured the facility and visited with some of the staff and guests.  In several of the common rooms they had bookshelves and so I, of course, looked through their books.  Many of the children’s books were in disrepair and many of the adult books were fairly dated.

At the same time, we had been looking for opportunities to show the kids that we could make a difference as a family. We spent that summer going to various garage sales to ask for the books that didn’t sell so that way we could donate them to Open Door Mission. At the time, I wasn’t involved with the Friends, but they did also donate to our cause. By the end of the summer we had gathered more than 4,000 books.

We sat down one night and sorted through them all.  We took out everything that was that was not in good shape, too old, etc.  We sorted the 2,500 remaining books by reading level, fiction or nonfiction, subject matter, etc.  We borrowed a truck, drove them down there, restocked all their shelves and gave them labeled boxes to pull additional books from as they were able to give away what was currently on their shelves.

After we successfully completed this family project, we moved on to a bigger endeavor. This time we addressed the issue of so many immigrants moving into Omaha.  We collected books again and this time sorted them by reading level but with more divisions (not just children and adults, but read-to-me stories, early reader, simple chapter books, longer chapter books, etc.)  Then we created “family bags” where every bag had at least ten books (we had 250 bags total) with the whole range of reading levels in each book.  We worked with Interdenominational Immigration Services to give these bags to new families to Omaha.  The notion was that this way even the family adults would have access to easy to read books in English.

My passion for literacy and getting books out to the community continues and now my efforts are focused on leading the Friends of the Omaha Public Library. All of our committees are library lovers and work to raise as much money as possible for the Omaha Public Library. As we expand our network of supporters and expand our community outreach, we can take these types of “family projects” and impact an entire community – the entire city.

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